Police questioning techniques make it easy to elicit false accusations

Horrified psychologists discontinued a study into how police interrogation tactics can create unshakable false memories of crimes; but it turns out that police questioning tactics are even better at elicting false accusations of crimes that never even occurred.

In a forthcoming study in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, Brian Cutler and Danielle Loney document how, with just a few minutes of "forceful questioning" that included threats of censure for failure to cooperate, they were able to coerce false eyewitness accounts of a crime that never occurred from student subjects.

Compared with suspects, witnesses may actually be more susceptible to coercive interrogation techniques because there are fewer, if any, consequences for implicating another person.

They may also be driven by a desire to please the interrogator. As the researchers note in their study, "we are often susceptible to the influence of those who seek our compliance."

"We know that if you trap somebody in there, and persuade them enough, they'll tell you what they think you want to hear, whether it's true or not," Cutler said. "And that's the real risk."

Developed by American police officer John Reid in the 1950s, the Reid technique assumes the subject of the interview is guilty or there is a strong likelihood of guilt. The chief purpose of the interview is therefore to extract a confession or incriminating evidence.

The questioning is confrontational and accusatory, meant to convince the person being questioned that to deny responsibility is futile. Often, the investigator says he or she knows the suspect is guilty and hints there is strong evidence proving guilt, even if that is exaggerated or made up.

Aggressive police questioning may boost false accusations, study finds [Wendy Gillis/Toronto Star]

(Thanks, Cliff Goldstein!)